Setting Team Standards with a Simple Phrase

Two Call Center AssociatesAs you lead your team and set direction, you have to first set standards. Let people know these are the expectations that you have of them for how they’re going to perform, especially when you’re not around.

These standards will typically take one of two forms. First, there are context-specific standards. Those relate to the role that you’re in and the role your team is operating in. The second type of standard is more behavioral standards that you’ll carry with you across roles. I’d like to focus on the context-specific standards today because those can rapidly improve and standardize the performance of your associates.

Allow me to offer an example of a context-specific standard. A long time ago, I ran in a large customer service organization and our associates were talking to customers by phone on a daily basis. I couldn’t be there to supervise them to listen in on every single call, nor could their managers.

We had two choices – either we could give our call center associates a long laundry list of “here are all the talk-offs that you should have for a specific customer and the situation they have” or we could have given them some rules for how we wanted them to behave. That rule was a leadership maxim (a principle or rule of conduct). The maxim I used was, “Is this right for the customer?” It was a very simple question.

We had it printed on mouse pads so it was right in front of that associate all the time. When they were on the phone with a customer, they could ask themselves “Is what I’m about to do right for the customer?” If the answer was yes, we wanted them to do that. If the answer was no, they needed to think of a different solution they could offer the customer that would satisfy the customer’s need.

This approach required a lot of coaching because we had to help associates understand this is what’s right, this is what’s wrong, and this is what’s too right. Sometimes our associates were making too many concessions. Generally we gave them a direction and said “This is the standard of performance for how you’re going to deal with our customers.”

As you start thinking about creating your maxims for the standards you’re going to hold the team to, I’d like you to think about ones that pertain to the role you are currently in. Think about times where you’ve had a member of your team do something great and you’ve said “I would love everybody on the team to emulate that behavior.” That behavior can serve as the basis for creating your maxim.

Think about the context you’re in and create that phrase or reminder of how you want your people behaving when you’re not around. Once you’ve created that reminder, share it throughout the organization. Help them understand how you want them to behave. Hold them accountable for living up to that standard. Celebrate their accomplishments when they live up to it. Provide coaching and feedback when they don’t.

Before you know it, you’ll have shifted the culture of the organization with nothing more than a simple phrase. It’s that phrase that will get you the consistently high level of performance you expect because your people know the standard and have a constant reminder of how they should live up to it.

Want to learn more about this topic?  How about taking an entire course on it?  Check out the video below to learn more about the course and get started.  Or you can go directly to the course and start learning the Leadership Maxims method.  For the video lesson on this topic, check out Chapter 3 of the course.  The entire course is available at  Enjoy!

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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Photo: Call Center Video by Jamie Wright

One Response to “Setting Team Standards with a Simple Phrase”

  1. RJ Bradner says:

    Excellent post. This subject is much misunderstood, misapplied and mistaken for an acceptable strategy. I like the clarification and guidance provided. Even for a veteran in the trenches, it is important to get a refreshed look at leadership. Well done. Thank you.

    P.S. Merry Christmas!

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